The Guns of August
Part Forty-Three of the "Schlieffen Plan" series.
Schlieffen Plan April 1916 Triple Entente turn
Weather: Spring - West Mud, East Mud
Triple Entente Turn
Over to the Triple Entente for their turn. Russia has now had to endure two strong Central Power combat phases in a row, while the fresh Italian allies have already been blocked from attacking Trieste and have to settle for trying to make headway north through the difficult rough terrain. The British did initiate an invasion of Turkey but already got a small bloody nose from it. And the Serbians lately seem very reluctant to start any new offensives, despite the small Austrian garrison keeping a somewhat nervous eye on them.
Not much love for the Russians. A few turns ago, once their army had a few turns to adjust from being on the offensive to defense, it looked like they were having some success in slowing down the Central Powers invasion. Their own losses became manageable, while the German and Austrian casualties started to increase to the point of their losses to replacement ratio becoming worse than the Russians'. That means the Russian army was holding steady, whereas the Central Powers armies were getting smaller. The Austrians in particular have failed to make any progress in their attacks.
Unfortunately for the Russians, that trend seems to have turned around over the past two turns. The likely culprits causing that (other than my brilliant generalship of course) are the entry of Turkey on the side of the Central Powers, and the end of the conflict between the British and Germans in what remained of the battle for France.
The effect of the Turks is indirect: now that they have become belligerents, they have cut off the British from being able to ferry supplies to the Russians through the Black Sea. In game terms, this means the Russians lose two replacement points of the fourteen they were getting each turn. That is the equivalent of losing one additional 2-4-3 infantry unit per turn.
The end of active hostilities in France means the arrival of a significant number of high quality and battle hardened combat and artillery units from the West. And there are still more on the way, as if things weren't bad enough.
So the past two months (each turn is a month in Guns of August) have seen the highest number of Russian losses in one turn, and while the next turn ended with fewer Russian losses, they still outstripped the Russians' replacement rate and on top of that the Central Powers lost only a single unit that entire round. Perhaps the worst sign of all is that the Austrians won both hexes they attacked last turn, and without losing any units! To make matters worse, Warsaw was captured this month, which is another hit to the Russians replacement rate. (Each lost city reduces a nation's replacement rate by one point.)
The Russians do not attempt any counter-attacks this turn. Probably a good idea, as unless one can engineer high odds attacks, one often loses more units when attacking than the defender does. My strategy this game while on the defensive in the East was to only attack when absolutely necessary. Keeping my losses at a minimum was probably the biggest factor in not losing any cities to the Russians while the Germans were focused on attacking France. The Russian strategy this turn is to make the next round of enemy attacks more difficult. They do this by moving their replacements forward to fill the gaps and increase the numbers of defenders wherever they can, and even pull back the line away from Warsaw to reduce the number of hexes they need to defend. That will make it more difficult for me, as the Central Power player, to get high odds attacks as the line is straighter, but it does at least get me one hex closer to Brest-Litovsk for free .
Capturing Brest-Litovsk is likely the most significant immediate objective for the Central Powers, as not only does it mean another replacement point loss for the Russians, but as a red-dot Objective City, it would give a one point modifier to the Variable Entry rolls for the Balkan neutrals to join the Central Powers. I am hoping to convince Bulgaria, Greece, and Rumania to join the Central Powers.
As you can see in the picture, the Russian army is not able to have maximized stacks all along the line. The maximum stacking (outside of engineer units) is three combat units (infantry) plus one artillery (plus one siege artillery unit on top of that if you are lucky enough to be a country with siege artillery [Germany gets two, and France gets one but not until late in the game]). The Russians have many hexes with only two and even one combat unit. Trench markers can only go as high as the number of combat units in a hex. If the top counter in a hex is a trench (units under an entrenchment counter get the defensive bonus but cannot attack, while units on top can attack but no defensive bonus), then the number on it tells you how many infantry units are in the hex, with a possible artillery unit in addition. If the Central Powers can continue to inflict more casualties on the Russians than they can replace each turn, then things will start to fall apart very quickly. Especially if I can do something to widen the front....
The British invasion of Turkey had its first setback almost immediately. In Guns of August, Turkish units are not allowed to enter the beach hex, so the Triple Entente get to invade for free. This is to simulate the fact that Turkey had too many possible amphibious invasions points to defend properly, while only representing a tiny portion of Turkey on the map board. However, the Turkish units are allowed to attack that hex, and a lowly 1-1-4 cavalry unit managed to eliminate a British 4-6-4 infantry with a low-odds attack without even being eliminated itself.
The British, although having arrived in strength with vastly superior units, are in a very precarious position. Having only one hex means they cannot retreat in the case of a demoralized result during combat. This means a unit must be eliminated. The Turkish units have space to retreat, so that allows them to avoid losses in case of demoralization combat results. Also, the rule for attacks at less than 1:1 odds is that they are treated as 1:1 attacks with a maximum -1 DRM, no matter how unbalanced the odds. Additional defensive modifiers, such as terrain or trenches, also apply, but the British just landed, and it takes three turns to build enough trenches for three combat units!
So a Turkish 1-1-4 cavalry unit attacking the British stack of three 4-6-4 infantry plus a 3-3-3 artillery unit, for odds of 1 to 21, is resolved as a 1:1 odds attack with a -1 DRM. This gives the cavalry unit a 50% chance of getting a result that eliminates one of the strongest British units, while only risking its own elimination 33% of the time, as it can retreat if demoralized. Not to mention, a 1-1-4 cavalry unit only costs 1 replacement point, while a 4-6-4 infantry costs 4 replacement points. It's a no-brainer for the Turks.
In any case, the British probably must realize that the weaker Turkish units sitting under their trenches are more than enough to prevent effective attacks. The way Guns of August simulates WWI combat, the combat tables are designed to result in losses on both sides except at very high odds, and infantry units all have higher defense factors than attack factors. A 4-6-4 infantry has 4 attack, 6 defense, and 4 movement factors. So a 4-6-4 attacking a 2-4-3 attacks at 4:4 = 1:1 odds, which is the lowest odds on the combat table, with the advantage for the defender, especially when the attacker has no retreat but the defender does. Any success in Turkey would require crazy good luck on desperate attacks, or some way to get more units there.
The British make no moves or attacks in Turkey. They do build the first level of trenches though.
Italy is the one Front that the Triple Alliance has been making any progress on. When Italy suddenly joined the Triple Alliance two turns ago, the Central Powers had not prepared any defenses against that possibility. That means that the Italians got to set up along a border bereft of enemy units! Luckily for the Central Powers, they get to move first each turn, whereas the Variable Entry rolls happen at the very end of each month, after both sides have taken their turn. While Germany and Italy did manage to get enough units there to protect Trieste and the railway running north effectively, the rough terrain next to Switzerland is still open, and has given the Italians some opportunities to advance, and even successfully attack.
The entry of Italy does give the Triple Entente more options. Not only does it open up the Italian front and add the Italian army, but Serbia finally becomes accessible. The Western Triple Alliance powers are not allowed to perform naval actions in the Adriatic Sea until Italy enters the war. Now they can send units to fight alongside the Serbians through the ports of Citinje and Durazzo. The high quality British or American units would be quite a boost to the Serbians, and opens the possibility of attacking Bulgaria and Turkey, or even Austria-Hungary. Strictly by the rules, the United States units are not allowed to deploy anywhere but on the Western Front (France, Germany, Belgium, Britain, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg), but we ignore that rule and have made a less stringent version for the Russians for our own games. Of course, they are still neutral at the moment, so it is a moot point.
The Italians advance another hex north towards Germany, and set up to attack the hex defended by a single 4-6-4. If they succeed, this would cut the Central Powers rail line, and isolate the hex just south of it. The odds are not great. A 2:1 attack (12-6) with a -1 DRM for the rough terrain only has a 50% of succeeding.
The Italians and British on the French side take no action except to entrench further. Pretty much a stalemate position similar to Serbia. Which of course if fine by me so that the Central Powers can put maximum effort into defeating Russia.
The single Italian attack does not go well, with an AD result, netting the Italians the loss of cavalry unit without gaining the hex.
Serbia continues in a virtual stalemate. The Serbians outnumber the Austrian contingent, but seem loath to start anything further. The Austrians made an initial strong push at the beginning of the game to capture Belgrade, which cut the Serbian replacement rate in half (from two to one points per turn), and then managed to stay one step ahead of the Serbians with their cavalry to chase them back into the mountains several hexes. Eventually the lines stabilized, and the Austrians made no further effort to conquer Serbia. The plan was to quickly neutralize Serbia and then leave a small holding force and focus on defending against the Russians. The Serbians rebuilt their army a couple of times but then took heavy casualties each time they initiated a new offensive. I suspect with that in mind and the threat of Bulgaria joining the Central Powers soon (Bulgaria has a 50% of being activated on each of the quarterly Variable Entry rolls), the Serbians have decided to play a much more conservative game until the major Triple Entente powers decide to send some reinforcements their way.
Now that Italy has joined the Triple Entente and the Adriatic ports are open to the British, Serbia could make a good staging point for a campaign to conquer Turkey and provide some needed relief to the Russians in renewed British aid. However, the British are very low on units after losing many of them in France, especially after the French army disintegrated and the British decided to fight on to maintain a foothold on the continent and delay German redeployment to Russia. Until that moment, the German army was mostly ignoring the British to focus on wearing the French down. Once that ended successfully, the British got all of the German attention in the West. So, at this time the British have very few units left, and have opted for an amphibious invasion of Turkey with what few units they have to see if they can make some quick headway there.
Any idea of 'quick headway' in Guns of August is one that should not be indulged in....
The only significant movement on the Serbian Front is that the Montenegrin army (which is one unit) comes out of the trenches to attack the Austrian cavalry sitting at their gates. I have written previously about what a bad idea this is. The attack is at 1:1 odds with a -1 DRM. There is a 50% chance that the Montenegrin will be eliminated (it cannot retreat if demoralized because demoralized units are not allowed to retreat further away from supply sources like cities and rail lines) without affecting the Austrian. That would allow the Austrian cavalry to advance after combat into a vacant Citinje and conquer Montenegro. The best possible result for Montenegro will only be a DD, defender demoralized.
The result for the Montenegrins is AE - attacker eliminated. So there we are, the Austrians now have a free conquest handed to them, and the capture of a potentially important port for the Triple Entente.
And what do I do? I fail to notice the opportunity!! Damn damn damn. I can't believe it! I can only hope he will try it again, but that seems unlikely in the extreme.
In the Reinforcement Phase of the Interplayer turn (which follows immediately after the Triple Alliance combat phase) the Montenegrins rebuild their infantry unit with their surplus of replacement points, and bang, opportunity lost.
British Sea Movement
In the naval phase of the Interplayer turn, Britain has two available units to send overseas. They choose to send one each to Nice and the bridgehead in Turkey. In my opinion, the Turkish invasion, unless supported by an attack through Bulgaria, is doomed to do nothing but frustrate my opponent and cost Britain a unit every couple of turns. Unless the British decide to attack from the beach. Then they will lose units much more rapidly.